Catherine had been a bit stand-offish when the fortune teller had first approached her.
There was nothing wrong with the man. He was clean and polite and spoke well. But she was a young woman travelling alone through Bavaria, Germany. There was never such a thing as being too careful. There were bandits and thieves on the roads, and all manner of other people that would try and take advantage of travelers in towns.
The fortune teller had seemed nice enough. There didn’t seem to be anything outwardly wrong with him, at any rate. He certainly didn’t look like he wanted to cause her any harm.
Smiling, the man said his name was Andreas Bichel. He lived there in the town of Regendorf with his wife and three children. Bichel made his living as a fortune teller and was wondering if she was interested in knowing her future.
Catherine smiled back. She said that all she wanted was a good husband.
Bichel laughed. He told her that he could tell her exactly who her husband would be – for a fee, of course.
“And how do you read the future?” she asked.
Bichel explained that he had a magic mirror at his home. When he looked into it under the right circumstances, then he could see clearly through the mists of time and into the future.
“Really?” she asked, skeptically.
He was serious. He meant every word he said.
Catherine looked at him, more intently this time.
In the Germany of 1808, things were different for young, single women like herself. Certain social beliefs of the time could make it very difficult for her to make her own way. The easiest – and sometimes the only – way for women to get ahead in the world was to marry well. A good husband could make all the difference for her, and times were rapidly changing.
Germany was in the middle of political and social upheaval. Powerful men had lost their prestige, while the fortunes of others were on the rise. You always had to be very careful about who you married, but especially then.
If what this Bichel said was true, and he could tell Catherine who she was going to marry, then it could give her a serious advantage. If the man were of well means, then the matter would be settled. If he was poor, then she could have a chance to change her fate and go for someone better.
After thinking for a moment, Catherine agreed to have her fortune read. She asked him how much for his services.
Bichel clapped his hands together. This was fantastic!
He told her that the price was simple: three of her dresses.
Catherine thought for a moment. It seemed a little steep to her. She looked at Bichel again. He seemed so sincere. She decided to believe him. The dresses would be worth it.
She agreed to his terms, and then asked him what came next.
Bichel was ecstatic. After a moment, he composed himself, and told her that the next step was to prepare for the reading.
He explained that there was a ritual involved before they began. Bichel told Catherine to wear her best dress, and to bring the other three dresses to the reading at his house. They would go through the rest of the ritual before the reading.
A short time later, when the reading had been scheduled, Catherine knocked on the front door of the Bichel home, wearing her best dress with the other three laying over the crook of her arm.
After a moment, Bichel opened the door. Smiling, he greeted her and motioned her inside.
The house was relatively plain, but it was clean and comfortable. As she took in her surroundings, her eyes widened a little when she saw what was on the table on the far side of the room. It was a strange device, made of wood and glass. It must be the magic mirror!
Bichel took the dresses from Catherine, and, thanking her, laid them out of the way. He then took her gently by the elbow and guided her to a chair in the middle of the room, facing the table.
He told her to sit down, then began explaining how the reading would work. Bichel took a few items from a shelf, then walked around behind Catherine, still talking.
He explained that he was going to blindfold her. Suddenly apprehensive, Catherine turned around in the chair and asked him why. Calmly, Bichel explained that it was part of the ritual. She sighed, then nodded her assent and faced back toward the table.
She felt her discomfort rise a little as she felt the soft cloth draw over her eyes, then pull tight as Bichel tied it into place.
Bichel now explained that he was now going to tie her hands together behind the chair. Catherine immediately tensed.
“Why do you have to do that?” she asked.
Bichel laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. This was a powerful ritual, he explained. She was about to see her future; to have whom she was going to marry revealed to her. It was such an exciting thing to experience! But in her excitement, she might reach forward to touch the mirror, and that would break the spell.
It might also break the mirror, which would prevent him from telling her fortune.
That seemed to make sense to Catherine. Once again, she gave her assent, and allowed Bichel to bind her hands.
Bichel stopped talking. Catherine could hear him moving around, his shuffling steps moving across the room. She held her breath, listening.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
Still no work from Bichel. She was about to ask again when she felt a blinding, searing pain on the top of her head. Even in the blindfolded darkness, Catherine saw stars, and felt something give way inside of her head.
She felt herself drifting, light as a feather, and then she felt nothing more.
Walburga Leidel was worried. She hadn’t heard from her older sister, Catherine, for a month. Their family and friends had been searching for her, but so far there had been no trace.
And then a letter arrived for Walburga. It was from Catherine. In it, she talked about having met a wonderful man who could tell the future by looking into a magic mirror. He lived in the village of Regendorf, in Bavaria. His name was Andreas Bichel.
Walburga wasted no time. As soon as she could, she made arrangements to travel to Regendorf.
When she arrived, she began to seek out Bichel. As she made her way around town, Walburga decided to go into a tailor shop.
As he came around the counter to talk to her, she noticed what he had been working on. It was a waistcoat, made from a very distinctive kind of corded material. Somehow, it looked familiar to Walburga, and her eyes kept drifting back to it as she spoke with the tailor.
Suddenly, she realized where she had seen it. Catherine had a petticoat made from the exact same kind of fabric. Walburga asked the tailor where he had gotten the fabric. The man told her that one of his clients had given it to him and asked him to make a waistcoat from it.
Without moving her eyes from the material, Walburga asked, “What was his name?”
“Andreas Bichel,” the tailor replied.
This had to be more than a coincidence. Walburga thanked the tailor, and then went straight to the local police.
She told them her entire story – all about Catherine, the letter, the fabric, and, of course, Andreas Bichel.
The police agreed that there seemed to be more going on than it might have first seemed. They told Walburga that they would look into it straight away.
A group of policemen, one of them with a dog, made their way to the Bichel home.
They were already familiar with Andreas Bichel. He was a common laborer who told fortunes on the side to make extra money. He seemed to work as hard as anyone else, and no one begrudged him dabbling in the business of telling the future.
However, Bichel had earned a reputation as being a thief when he was younger. Mostly it was just small things, like vegetables from the neighbor’s garden. But once, he had stolen hay from an inn that he had been working for and it had cost him his job when he got caught.
Bichel and his wife were private people. They didn’t interact with their neighbors much, nor did they really attend any larger social activities in the town.
When the police showed up at this door, Bichel was certainly surprised. Greeting them, he smiled and asked what he could do for them.
The authorities proceeded to ask if he knew a Catherine Liedel. He thought for a moment, then said that he did. They proceeded to question the fortune teller about the last time he had seen her.
Bichel explained that she had come to get her fortune read a few weeks prior. After they were finished, she paid him, and then had gone off with some man that he didn’t know, saying something about getting married. He hadn’t seen her since.
Although he smiled and was friendly enough, there was something about the way Bichel was acting that made them suspicious. He kept contradicting himself, and they began to strongly suspect that he was lying to them.
They were sure that he had something to do with Catherine’s disappearance. The officers told him that they were going to search his house for evidence and pushed their way past him and through the door.
At first glance, everything seemed to be in order. The mirror lay on the table, undisturbed. Some of the officers might have smiled to themselves when they saw what it really was: a magnifying glass mounted on a wooden board.
They began sorting through cupboards and drawers, above the rafters and under the beds. If there was anything belonging to Catherine, they were determined to find it.
Finally, in a clothes bureau, they found a several sets of women’s clothing. Walpurga Liedel was able to identify three of them as belonging to her sister.
As they continued to question Bichel and search the house, the dog the police had brought with them began to pull at his leach. It would smell the ground and bark, then try to pull its handler.
At first, the constable ignored it, thinking that the dog was reacting to the scent of another animal. But the dog wouldn’t stop trying to pull him toward something.
Finally, the officer relented, and followed as the dog lead him to the woodshed. The dog became even more excited, pawing the door and sniffing the ground.
Curious, the constable called to his fellow officers. Inside they could only see wood, but the dog wouldn’t stop. By this time, they suspected that the dog was smelling something that they couldn’t, so they began bringing all of the wood out of the shed.
Underneath the woodpile, they saw that the ground had been disturbed. After moving some of the earth away, the police began to find pieces of a mutilated young woman. Nearby, under a pile of trash, was another body in the same condition.
One of them was identified as Catherine Liedel.
Bichel was immediately arrested and taken into custody.
At first, he was adamant that he didn’t have anything to do with the deaths. He repeated his story about Catherine running away with the mystery man. Nothing that the authorities said could dissuade him from his story.
Until just a few years prior, the police would have been allowed to use torture to extract a confession from Bichel. But the laws had changed, and they could no longer turn to the more brutal methods of the recent past.
But necessity is the mother of invention.
They were positive that Bichel had committed the murders, but they needed a way to make him confess. Finally, someone had an idea.
Soon after, Bichel, under police escort, was taken to his home. Inside, the pieces carefully laid out and arranged, were the bodies of the two women found on his property. In full few of what police presumed to be his victims, they began interrogating the fortune teller.
This was too much. Overwhelmed with guilt, he made a full confession, omitting no detail.
Bichel said that it had all started with a young woman named Barbara Reisinger.
His wife needed some extra help around the house, and they had the money to hire a maid. Reisinger had expressed an interest, so he had invited her over to interview for the job.
By complete happenstance, his wife and children were away that day, leaving Bichel and Reisinger alone in the house. At first, it really was just an interview. But as they talked, Bichel’s eyes had noticed her dress. He loved the material of it, and suddenly he wanted it more than anything else.
He kept asking Reisinger questions, smiling and nodding while he came up with a way to get the dress. Soon an idea started to form.
In the middle of their conversation, Bichel asked her if she’d like him to tell her fortune. The sudden shift surprised the young woman, but he was soon able to convince her. Once he sat her in the chair, he had persuaded her to allow him to blindfold her and bind her hands.
When he was finished, Bichel went to the kitchen and got a knife. Returning, he viciously plunged it deep into Reisinger’s neck.
His need to have the dress was so much that his hands started shaking, eager to have the thing that he had just killed for. He threw Reisinger’s body on the floor and quickly undressed her, carefully laying the coveted dress aside.
Bichel cut open the corpse and used a wedge to crack open the young woman’s breastbone. Carefully, he disemboweled the body and used an axe to hack it into pieces. He then hid the remains in the woodshed.
He had done the same thing with Catherine Liedel but had killed her by a hitting her in the top of the head with a hammer.
Bichel said that, in his excitement, he may or may not have eaten some of the flesh from the young women.
Authorities were appalled. They were even more so when they discovered that Bichel had tried to murder at least three other women between killing Reisinger and Liedel. Solemnly, they began to wonder if Reisinger had really been the first, or if there had been more women that had gone undiscovered.
They understood that although they would probably never be able to fully answer that question, they would be able to bring this monster to justice.
On June 9, 1809, Andreas Bichel was beheaded for the murders of Barbara Reisinger and Catherine Leidel.
While his name was branded onto the pages of history as the Bavarian Ripper, the nameless police dog also found itself there.
Without the dog, the authorities would have never discovered Barbara Reisinger or Catherine Liedel when they did. It was the animal’s keen sense of smell that led them to the woodshed and made it the first documented case where a dog led authorities to human remains in this manner.
Several decades later, its spiritual decedents would be trained to become the cadaver dogs of the modern day, helping to give closure to victims’ families around the world.
Germany from c. 1760 to 1815. Britannica.com
1809: Andreas Bichel, Bavarian Ripper. Executedtoday.com
Cat McAuliffe. 12 Other Rippers Throughout History As Bad As Jack. Ranker.com
Sabine Baring-Gould, The Book of Were-Wolves.
Andreas Bichel. Murderpedia.com
Westall, William. A Precedent for the Whitechapel Murder. The Pall Mall Gazette, 9/7/1888
The Origins of Cadaver Dogs. A Life of Dogs.com